Application of pesticides can help fight fall armyworms but poses risks to the environment and biodiversity conservation as, for instance, bees die while collecting nectar to make honey from crops on which the pesticides are sprayed.
Through the pollination process, bees contribute to the production of one third of the food the world’s population consume, and also enhance the quality as well as the quantity of flowering crop yields according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agricultural experts are proposing non-chemical (natural) means to control the pest, with use pesticides only considered as a last option.
In addition, they recommend that pesticides with a less harmful impact to the environment, or are environment-friendly, be applied to mitigate the fatal effects on bees.
Given that the crop-eating caterpillar’s infestation in plantations, mainly maize, in Africa, is threatening to cause food insecurity to over 300 million people on the continent according to estimates from the FAO, which adds that the pest might cause Africa a loss of about $4.8 billion by damaging maize crop yield alone, FAO and the Government of Rwanda are considering integrated pest management.
Another issue of concern that the joint initiative will help address is the resistance of the pest against pesticides, which has been recorded in various countries.
Speaking on Friday in Kigali during the launch of two projects to combat fall armyworm through surveillance and monitoring system, the assistant representative of FAO in Rwanda, Otto VianneyMuhinda, said the fall armyworm appears to be a problem that can cause food insecurity for the whole continent, observing that “that is why countries should pull together to act in such a way that containing, fight or managing it be done collectively,” he said.
One project consists of $300,000-worth fall armyworm traps which attract months by using a chemical known as pheromone, then prevents their reproduction.
Another $400,000 will come from FAO’s $1.5 million project to tackle the pest in the eight-country sub-region based in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia.
The projects support the government’s existing mechanisms so that their coordination can be done effectively, especially coordinating, monitoring, giving message, training materials, and research on effectiveness of pesticides, and trying natural remedies for the pest, according to Muhinda.
Underscoring the role of bees, and the protection of the environment, Muhinda said bees contribute to the production of about one-third of the food we eat through pollination.
“So, we need to protect them in the environment. That’s why, in the fight against armyworm, we never recommend the use pesticides. We look for food security while preserving our biodiversity,” he said.
Nyagatare District planted about 22,000 hectares of maize in the last planting season which started in September 2017 whose harvesting period ends in March this year. IAbout 800 litres of pesticides was applied on 8,000 hectares which were attacked by the armyworm, according to Gilbert Rutayisire, director of agriculture and livestock in the district.
Rutayisire said studies should be carried out to see how armyworm can be tackled using non-chemical means, such as application of ash and pepper.
Muhinda said the fight against armyworm should be done collectively so that farmers achieve desired results, noting that USAID had injected about $1 million towards achieving this goal.
“That is why such a collective effort should be available. You cannot say that I will apply pesticides as an individual farmer in Nyagatare, because the armyworm causing moth might come from another area which has not been controlled, and affect your plantation,” he said.